Holiday Weekend Reading

I hope you are able to get out this Labor Day weekend and enjoy the unofficial end of summer. In my part of the country, they are forecasting rain and more rain. If you are stuck inside, here are some articles I have enjoyed lately that I think you might like as well. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy these.

Are We Training Our Children to Gain the World But Lose Their Souls?

5 Terrible Reasons Your Kids May Think They Can Outgrow Christianity

12 Biggest Ministry Frustrations for Student Pastors – whole heartily agree with number 1.

Golfing Alone – an honest look at membership in organizations, especially by men

Is Your Pastor Happy to See You?

Knowing Your Role on the Team

Tonight, I will do something I have never done before. I will watch my beloved Green Bay Packers play live and in person. It is only a preseason game, but I am excited to see them take the field against the hometown Kansas City Chiefs. My family and I have been to Green Bay and taken the Champions Tour of Lambeau Field. We were able to see some of the players work out at OTA’s while we were there that day. There is only one thing we have not been able to do, and that is see them play a real game and tonight may be as close as we get. I am excited as a couple of my boys, and I will be in row 31 behind the bench for all the action.

Tonight is a unique game for some of the players. It is the final preseason game, and some of the guys will be competing for a final spot on the 53-man roster for the season. After tonight, some men will remain a Packer for the season, some will join another team, and some will be done with football. Those few players who make the final cut rarely become superstars. Most of them will become role players in the background of big-name players who dominate the headlines.

Every year I tell my boys the same thing. The team who will win the Superbowl will either be the team that stays healthy or who has the best backup players. This was illustrated dynamically last season when the Philadelphia Eagles won with a backup quarterback who stepped into a high-pressure situation and won. The players who make the squad tonight are called role players because they often have small but essential roles to play.

All this has me thinking about the community we call the Church. I believe that every member is vital to the overall success of Christ’s kingdom in our communities. Some people will step into the spotlight each week like I do as a preacher. There are worship leaders, teachers, and staff who play a prominent role in our community. Honestly, the role players are the ones who make the biggest difference. Those people who step up and do the right thing at the proper time are indispensable. The people who clean, mow, work in the nursery, and greet are often overlooked but play a huge part in the success of a Church. People who see someone they do not know and introduce themselves while nicely talking are vital. The sharing of a smile with a stranger can affect someone for eternity.

I dream of a Church full of superstar players who are the best speakers, leaders, teachers, and workers in the world. But the impact of a Church is not seen in the number of big names who attend but rather in the role players who are willing to do anything for the team. Those often nameless individuals who share the love of Jesus with every encounter. Each individual who is part of a Church has a unique role to play when we do not fill our position the whole team suffers. When everyone knows their role and does their part to the best of their ability, God is glorified, and lives are changed.

I Don’t Think I Could Have Handled Judas Well

Every time we are introduced to Judas in the gospel accounts, he is referred to as “the one who would betray him.” Jesus appears to know that he will turn his back from the moment he selected him. One time Jesus calls him a “devil” (John 6:70). We are also told Judas was a thief and it seems that Jesus may have been aware (John 12:6). Judas is portrayed as a heartless character who lies, steals and betrays to advance himself financially.

With all that said, he still spent three years in the presence of Jesus. Jesus teaches him just like the other 11 disciples. He feeds him along with the crowds of people. He performs miracles in his presence and even sends him out to do the same. Jesus allows Judas to accept a leadership role knowing that God will work through it. Can you imagine having to look the man in the eyes who you knew was going to hurt you emotionally? Can you fathom the humility in asking him to go out and proclaim your name?

I think a great deal about Jesus relationship with Judas. In all his actions and kindness toward Judas, he is teaching me about how to live with other people. You see, I am not a people person. If the ministry has shown me one thing, it is the depth of depravity in which humans can sink. I have heard about and witnessed actions that are despicable. Slowly I fear it is making my cynical and sarcastic toward everyone.

Jesus amazingly does the opposite as my natural inclinations. I would have treated Judas with disdain. He would have been forced to stand outside the circle. I would have given him no responsibilities and might have ignored him a time or two. He would have felt my disapproval in my tone of voice when I spoke with him. Given a chance, I would have warned the other 11 disciples to avoid getting to close to him. My actions toward him would have been genuinely ugly, but wouldn’t I have the right?

Jesus shows me that loving kindness flows out of my character that is forged by God and is not based on the other person. My call is to act like Jesus and not react like the world.

When those moments come, and I want to scream at people and show my contempt I go back to Jesus who shows me another way. The way he treats Judas reminds me that I need to be kind in my actions toward all people – not just the nice ones. God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35), and he instructs me to live the same way. Way easier said than done when you think your friend is like Judas.

Two Ways to Read the Bible

As a pastor, I continually encourage people to read their Bible. If you have been a follower of Jesus for very long, you know that the words of scripture are a vital part of your faith. While I want you to read the Bible, I also want everyone to know how to read it accurately.

Here are the two primary ways to read the Bible:

1. For Personal Information. You need to read to educate yourself on the works of God and his most precious creation. The collection of information will allow you to develop some big picture concepts about faith in God and following Jesus. It will inform and instruct you on the ways of the believer.

2. For Personal Transformation. The information you gather should motivate you to live in the way you are taught. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus ends with a parable of a wise man who built his house on the rock and a foolish person who built their house on the sand. The setup line for that story is, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like …” (Matthew 7:24).

The goal of all Bible reading is linked to these two concepts, and they are intimately connected to each other. You read and listen to the scriptures to gather information that will be transformational. The two questions to ask the next time you are reading are “what?” and “so what?” To only ask one of these is to miss the whole point of God’s words to us. This all sounds so basic, but it is literally the key to everything.

Repeating Ourselves at Church

If you attend the Church where I preach, I want to warn you about something. This Sunday you are going to hear some of the same things you heard last Sunday. Some of the same words will be used that were repeated a year ago, and possibly the year before too.

The printed program this week will have a couple of pages of the same information it had a week ago. Looking back at the programs and I see that some words and sections have not changed in the last four years.

For the people who attend Church, there is this tendency to get frustrated with hearing the same things over and over. I have to remind the people who take the microphone to say certain words and phrases each and every week. They often balk at my instructions and try to skip those parts they feel are too familiar.

I mean, why does the Church repeat itself over and over? I have been here before, and I get it. Let’s move on to something else.

There is one primary reason we say the same things over and over at Church. It is because this week, there may be one new person who has not heard. This week quite possibly there will be a family in Church for the very first time. They will not know who is on the stage speaking, so we introduce ourselves. These people may not know that our congregation takes the needs of its people serious and offers prayers on their behalf. They will have no idea why we take communion and how. The offering will come across as the Church just trying to take their money. They will have no understanding of what we do each Sunday, and so I explain it to them.

Yes, I know you have heard it all before. I am okay with that. I am concerned about the person who is checking out our Church and possibly faith for the very first time. I want them to know what we are doing and why we are doing it. I do not want anything to stand in their way of hearing the will of God for their life.

This Sunday there will be guests stopping by our worship program, and we have a few things we want to tell them, so they grasp everything clearly. For that reason, we repeat ourselves.

You might not appreciate this until you bring someone to Church with you. Bring a friend this Sunday who is not a believer, and suddenly you will be glad to hear those same things said again.

Four Items You Need to Evaluate as a Believer

When you read the Bible, it is easy to see there are some things that just plain evil. Theft, adultery, and murder are nasty things. No denying it. No arguing about it. They are just bad.

You will also notice some things are always presented as Godly actions. Generosity and love are of God. No debate about it. No resistance to it. They are good.

Other things are hard to label. Most of the items and actions in our life can be used for bad, or they can be used for good. They can inspire people to a Godly life or destroy them for evil. There is a fine line that divides something into being a positive action and a negative one. This makes it hard always to know where we stand. Sometimes we need to be reminded that what we thought was right, might actually be the evil that is destroying us.

Here are four items that are impacting your soul that you need to assess.

1. Your Schedule. Is your schedule overloaded? A packed schedule can be a sign that you are busy doing the Lord’s work or it can destroy your soul by leaving no time for God. You can use your time to water your soul or run it dry. Where does all your time go? How much goes to your family, how much to yourself, how much to work and how much to God?

2. Social Media. Are you driven by the approval of others? Continually posting on social media can be a sign that you are friendly and trying to impact the world for God. It can also be a sign that you are self-absorbed and trying to keep up a front so that all the world will love you. How much of your time is spent on one form of social media or another? One man said something like this, “If social media has shown us anything, it is that we have plenty of time to look at pages and our excuse for not reading the Bible is gone.”

3. Personal Connections. Do you have real, solid Godly friendships in your life? The people you spend time with are shaping your character, attitude, and faith. Do you spend time with people who want to see you grow in the ways of the Lord or the world? Computers can be a great thing; they can also move us toward isolation and despair. All humans need someone to speak directly to them in love with truth. Who do you have in your life?

4. Recreation. What do you do for fun? Does it promote the work of the Lord in your life or does it take away from it? I am not opposed to fun and enjoyment, but it can be a tool for evil when it pulls us away from God’s work in our life. Are you spending more time on self-satisfaction and enjoyment than on the things of God?

All of these are hard questions, and yet they are essential for every believer to ask themselves regularly. At least once a year I must look at my life and evaluate my actions. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live under his Lordship and not my agenda. It is easy to avoid the bad and embrace the good, it is more challenging to use everything else in a Godly way also.

You Find What You Are Looking For

One unexpected part of my job is proofreading. Each week I am given the Church’s printed program or a newsletter or some form of advertisement and told to look it over for any issues. Immediately my critical brain begins to look at every word and every detail. Usually, I can find a word or spacing that needs to be changed. Often a see a font that requires adjustment and minor details that might go unnoticed by the majority of people.

How can I spot these flaws? I see them because I am looking for them.

On the flip side, quite often I do not notice mistakes on my blog. Punctuation issues and grammatical errors slip past me. The difference is that when I write, I am looking for big ideas and content flow while ignoring the minor details. I am not looking at the material the same way.

The same is true about life in general. If you go through your day looking for reasons to be happy, you will find them. If you focus on the negative, you will find an excuse to be mad. Your attitude is not just based off what you experience, but how you take those occurrences into your life. Your mind and heart see what they want to notice.

Therefore, Paul tells Christians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)”

At the end of this day, you will say it was a great day or a lousy one. The difference might only be found in what you choose to see.

Fighting the Temptation to Quit

Some weeks I feel like quitting the ministry.

My mind usually goes to one of two places at times like this. The first is of a little fishing business where I sell bait and tackle while swapping stories of big fish. In the second dream, I run a tiny ice cream stand, and my specialty is a hot fudge sundae with whip cream. Both scenes are connected in their own strange way. Each one involves people who can’t wait to see me and always happy with what I am offering them.

In both scenarios, I remain a believer in God, but I become a private person. I talk to no one about my faith, and I am never rejected. I am not involved in any church so that no one will disappoint me. There would also be no ministry involvement of any type, that way I will never fail at anything I attempt to do for God. It would be a perfect life with happiness, quietness and little disappointment with people.

Somewhere in this daydream I snap back to reality and remember Jesus.

Serving Jesus rarely sees immediate results. Over three years Jesus performed public ministry and even after his death and resurrection only about 120 people followed him. Only years later will his ministry begin to impact the entire world.

Following Jesus is always tough work. Jesus primary message is of love, kindness, humility and serving others and people killed him for it. Whenever you tell people there is a better way to live there will be those who will oppose your words.

Trusting Jesus comes with a continual temptation to quit. After Jesus most challenging sermon on the bread of life in John chapter 6 the crowds turn away and leave. Jesus asks his twelve disciples if they are going to leave him too. Even those closest to him could have walked away to their little world where life was safe and quiet.

I am convinced that I am not alone in my thoughts about quitting. Every believer faces the temptation to give up at some point. During times like this, I cling to Jesus, after all, the other life looks easy, but Jesus is the only place to find eternal life. I promise I won’t give up. Don’t you ever give up either.

The Language of Forgiveness and Apologies

Yesterday in my sermon I shared something with the congregation that many people have never heard. I am in a series of sermons called “Fix My Marriage,” and I was addressing the issues of past hurts. The key to moving beyond our past hurts is forgiveness. Even then, quite often when we try to ask for forgiveness or offer it, we run into more difficulties. One of the reasons is because we each have a way in which we desire to give and receive forgiveness.

Here are the five primary ways we communicate an apology:

1.“I’m sorry” [Express Regret]
2. “I was wrong” [Accepting Responsibility]
3. “How can I make it right?” [Making Restitution]
4. “I want to change?” [Genuine Repentance]
5. “Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?” [Requesting Forgiveness]

Understanding each one of these is key to helping your relationships move beyond the hurts of the past.

You can find my sermon HERE

You can find out more from the original books Here and HERE.